My life is far from perfect but it’s pretty good. I’ve felt shame and the feeling of being trapped before, but nothing prepared me for what I was about to hear from a stranger.
It was late evening on a Saturday night. We were dressed to impress and ready to party. Birthday celebrations were in order: upscale Indian food, a crowded bar filled with other party-goers, and a small dance floor in front of a live band. We reminisced over dinner and later took our kitchen dance moves to a whole new level on an actual dance floor. With busy adult lives, we made sure to soak in every moment.
As the evening came to a close, our bellies were full and sore from laughter, and we took to the streets of the “big city” for our final walk to our cars. The moon was bright and just shy of being full – perfect conditions for impromptu side-walk conversations along the way.
As we approached our parked car we were stopped at one of the many busy intersections. A man sitting on the ground slouched against a concrete block, un-showered and holding a beverage of sorts, started up a conversation with my friends: “Do you have money for a smoke? Any spare change? Can I do something for you so you’ll have more time for you’re lady? Anything?” They bantered back and forth for a bit, but what came out of this man’s mouth next hit the deepest cord in my consciousness.
“I’ll be your slave. I’ll do whatever you want for 5 dollars.”
Unable to express my shock and sorrow, I swallowed my sadness in that moment.
In a free country where we have the privilege to an education, health care, social services and work opportunities, this man identified himself as a slave, willing to do ‘whatever’ for 5 bucks. Even if it was addiction talking, no human being should feel that he or she is worthless – a slave to another.
This man did not see himself as an equal to my friend. He viewed himself as less than human. Worthless. To be used. Overcome with the need to numb his pain, addiction was traded for any sense of his self-worth. His worthlessness, I’m sure, wasn’t something that just happened overnight. One negative thought, one broken moral promise and one more line he swore he would never cross, until he’d do ‘anything’ for 5 dollars.
My belly was full and my heart was happy, but the world isn’t all about my satisfaction. God directed my attention to a man who felt worthless. A man that I shared my humanity with. A man that I did nothing to help, other than empathize with and pray for. A man that reminded me that I am his equal and I too have felt the way he has felt (to some degree)…
My experience was not unlike what a wise man who spent his last years walking the same streets I walked that night, “…that only by entering into communion with human suffering can relief be found.” – Henri Nouwen